Creating a business procedures manual

- August 28, 2009 2 MIN READ

Processes. Love ‘em or loathe them, we can’t live without them. They are part of everything we do. But often we take our business processes for granted until disaster hits or we need to break free from our indispensible role as the boss.

Recently Mark Moore discussed Why you should document procedures and I heartily agree with his sentiments; but how do you get started with creating a business procedures manual for your business?

Here are ten easy steps to get you onto the path of process enlightenment and create a business procedures manual:

1. Start with the basics

It is tempting to try to jump straight into writing procedures, but before you do this it is important to document information about your business that may seem obvious. Start with the basics – what the business does, who its customers are, where you are located, who your suppliers are, what your operating hours are and how you can be contacted.  

2. Who are you writing the business procedures manual for?

Before you plunge headlong into your business’s most complex processes, remember who you are writing the business procedures manual for – not for those like yourself who have intimate knowledge of the entire business, but for a third party. The more accessible you can make your instructions the better. Write your procedures as if you are talking to a child – that way everyone will understand them.  

3. Make a list

Before you start writing procedures, make a list of all of the processes within your organisation, note who can provide the information and prioritise each one of them.  

Want more articles like this? Check out the processes section.

4. Just start

What are you waiting for? Just start! Stop thinking about it and do it. Business procedures manuals are like life insurance – don’t put it off. You never know when you might need it…  

5. Never mind the medium

Don’t be overly concerned with how you document your procedures. Whilst Word and Excel are good ways to start, it doesn’t really matter if you write them with a rusty nail dipped in blood – as long as you do write them (just make photocopies!)  

6. Step by step

When you write a procedure, break everything down, step-by-step. Try to number each step, write down who is responsible and clearly articulate what is required. You may find it helpful to start each step with a verb. For people like me, that means a doing word, like “create”!  

7. Ask for everyone’s input

You probably think you know everything about your business (and I’m not saying you don’t!) but you should always let any subcontractors or colleagues review your business procedures manual. You might find out that they aren’t doing things the way you had hoped, and they may even have some new ideas for ways to do things better.  

8. Re-invent

Documenting your processes and procedures forces you to think about the way things are currently done. This very act can help to stimulate creative juices and generate ideas to re-invent and improve your business.  

9. It’s a living thing

Once you have created your business procedures manuals don’t put them on a shelf and forget about them. It’s important to keep them alive and up-to-date. If you can’t handle continually updating them then set a date in your diary to review them on a regular basis.  

10. Get professional help

If it all seems too hard or you can’t find the time, don’t be ashamed to get help. There are many experienced procedural writers out there who can help you to pull things together.  

Why not share your experiences and tips for creating a business procedures manual for your business?